Last summer, I read several books with unsatisfying endings. In one case, I wondered if the novel had been worth my time and attention. The author had started with a compelling opening, the characters were well-developed, and each chapter ended on a suspenseful note.
Where did she go wrong?
Two-thirds of the way through the book, she introduced a character who had no connection to any of the other characters. In fact, I would suggest she literally pulled him out of thin air so she could pin the murder on him.
Afterward, I started to wonder about the conclusions to my own books. Had I made an impact on the reader and encouraged her to buy the next book in the series? Or had I disappointed her with a contrived or unsatisfactory ending?
I reread my editor’s comments and checked with several beta readers who reassured me that I had ended on the right note. I also reread notes from workshops and seminars. Here are five tips to consider when writing that final chapter:
1. Decide on an ending that is appropriate for your genre. If you are writing a thriller or murder mystery, a strong build-up with plausible suspects and fast-paced action should lead to the resolution of major plot points. Romance readers expect an HEA (Happily ever after) or HFN (Happily for now) ending. If you are not comfortable with that expectation, write the novel as women’s fiction. With fantasy and science fiction, endings that leave room for the imagination can be very satisfying. Literary fiction tends to have endings featuring all degrees of resolution.
2. Refrain from moralizing or delivering a hard-hitting lesson to make a point or teach a lesson. Instead, let your characters reveal what they have learned through their actions and situations.
3. Avoid improbable endings. Some authors get tangled up in plot lines and introduce a fantastical or outlandish event such as the sudden appearance of a ghost with homicidal tendencies or a dream sequence that negates the entire storyline. These endings work only if groundwork has appropriately been established throughout the book. For example, missing items and unexplained events could justify the introduction of a ghost or other supernatural being.
4. Structure books in series such that your reader will want to continue reading. Decide which subplots you intend to wrap up and which you will leave dangling to create anticipation for the next book in the series. You may also wish to introduce a complication (appearance of an old flame, job offer or firing, marriage proposal) that needs to be further developed.
5. Pay particular attention to the final sentence, image, or line of dialogue. A vague closing line can cast a shadow over the entire novel while a powerful one will linger in memory.
Here are my favorite closing lines:
“After all, tomorrow is another day.” Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
“He loved Big Brother.” 1984 by George Orwell
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“We sat there for a long time, till the crowd around us thinned, till the sun shifted and the light changed. Till we felt our eyes could meet again, without the tears.” Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
“Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at seas as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.” Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Five years ago, I decided to quit feeling sorry for myself and do something about it. You see, I’d recently moved away from home and was lost and lonely.
But, I had a dream.
One I’d carried in the back of my mind for years. I wanted to write a book. Deciding the genre was the easy part. Romance. I was an avid reader of romance novels. They took me to faraway places, fed my spirit and thrilled my heart.
Yep, romance it was.
Okay, now what?
I had a computer that I used for my bookkeeping, but had no idea how to use it as a writing tool. I needed to learn though, my lefty handwriting was atrocious- that wouldn’t work.
I searched online and found RWA® Romance Writers of America, a group of thousands geared toward helping authors better their craft. I also managed to find a local writing group and gathered up the courage to go to one of their meetings where I immediately felt at home. I joined both and began to take classes to learn the art.
It took time (I’m still a work-in-progress) but finally, FINALLY I published my first book in September of 2014.
I could barely contain the excitement blooming in my chest to see a book with MY name on it for sale. But then came the realization. People were going to read it. My heart and soul on those pages and they were all out there– I felt sick.
The reviews trickled in, some good, some not so much, but the addiction was born. I loved to write!
This week I’m celebrating that momentous moment by sharing my first book with you- free!
Nick jogged through the early morning streets, Jake trotting by his side, enjoying the peace and quiet before the town woke for the day. Little songbirds greeted him as he passed a cedar hedge on his way to the park. The air was fresh and cool at this hour. He was glad his strength had returned, his breathing even and stride long. It’d been an uphill battle. For a while after the ambush he’d shut down. Closed everyone out. He wished now he’d made it his business to keep in touch with all his old teammates. The faint sounds of a dog’s bark had Nick looking down at Jake, loping alongside. He’d healed up well, and only flinched at sudden loud noises these days. His hip had taken the brunt of the damage. When the explosion had thrown them, Nick worried he’d need to put him down, but he’d pulled through. Tough mutt.
After his run, he would head over to Sara’s and have a look at those files, see what they were looking at here. Nick had a bad feeling that Tommy boy was into some heavy shit. They needed to solve that first, before there could be a chance for him and Sara.
A sudden sharp pain stabbed him behind the eyes, causing him to falter. Jake whined, sensing his distress. Squinting through slit eyes he spotted a nearby bench, and slumped onto the seat. He pushed a shaky hand through his hair, and then using his thumb and middle finger squeezed in towards his nose, relieving the pressure. “It’s okay, boy. I’m fine. Let’s just take a little break, hmm.” The doctor had explained in excruciating detail while he lay in that hospital in Germany, how lucky he was. The explosion had hit him and sent him flying right up against the stone wall of a nearby house. Shrapnel had gouged a deep line on his forehead, right above his old bullet wound. A centimeter farther to the left and it would have been lights out, of the forever kind. Unfortunately, it’d taken his short-term memory away from him. He’d been told it would come back in dribbles, or one big slam––or maybe not ever. Nice. It angered him that he couldn’t break through the fog to discover the truth of what happened to him and his team. There was something there he could feel it.
He supposed he should be grateful he could remember his childhood, though those memories he could have lived without. Years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of his old man had sent him down nothing but a path of trouble during his high school years. Alcohol, substance abuse, vagrancy, you name it he tried it. His motto had been if you’re not living on the edge, you’re just taking up space.
Then he’d met Kendra in one of the few classes he’d decided to show up for and they’d fallen in love. She’d been the only child of lawyer parents, sweet and innocent. The odds had gone against him when they’d had unprotected sex on a hot summer’s night. She’d gotten pregnant. At least he’d done the right thing and proposed. And though her parents of course hated him, they agreed the marriage should take place. Maybe if they’d stopped it, or if he’d just walked away, Kendra and his son would still be alive today.
They’d been too young, and in the end, it tore them apart. He couldn’t even recall what the fight had been about––no doubt his lack of a ‘respectable’ job. He’d been working at a local garage at the time––all he did remember was getting up to answer the door, only to see two uniforms on the other side. Devastated, blaming himself, he spent the next couple of months shit-faced drunk. Coming out of an alcohol-induced daze one day he saw a poster for enlisting in the marines. Not caring much whether he lived or died at that point, he’d signed up. They sent him to Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, where he met Jake. They’d been inseparable ever since.
The searing pressure eased enough for him to open his eyes. Jake sat with his head cocked to the side, his ears laid back in commiseration. Nick nudged him with his knee and gave his sides a good hard rub, Jake groaning his thanks. “Okay, big guy, what do you say to finishing our run?” He’d learned a long time ago that pushing through the pain was often the best medicine.
He had that in common with Sara. She’d gone through both a physical and a mental trauma that would have crushed most. She was doing great, but he bet a violation like that was something from which no woman ever fully recovered.
It humbled him that she had trusted him enough to allow him to make love to her last night. Nick would never hurt a hair on her head, but there was no real way for her to be sure of that. He hoped and prayed no one would ever crush her again, and swore to do everything in his power to make sure of that, starting with Sheridan. If those files contained half of what Sara had intimated they did, he’d need some help. Checking to make sure no one was around, he pulled his cell out of his sweats and made the call.
“Hey, Chief, how are you? It’s Nick, Nickolaus Kelley. Long time, sir, too long. Shit, I’ve missed the team. How’s the whizz kid?” A big grin split his face as he listened to Frank describing Jared’s latest and greatest.
“No kidding, trust Martin to take the term, Land of opportunity, to a whole new level, right?” He laughed. Man, it was good to talk to the chief again. Why did people always let the important ones in their lives fall to the wayside, while they went about the business of life?
He could well believe Jared had almost shut down the strip; the man was scary good with electronics. “I understand that you’re out of the loop these days, sir, but I was hoping I could ask you, and Jared if he’s still with you, for a helping hand. I have a situation here and could really use your input.”
Relief coursed through his veins at the quick response to his plea. “I’ll tell you all about it when you arrive. Tomorrow then, and thanks—Frank.”
New Year’s Resolutions? Nope, never been a thing for me.
But five or six years ago I stumbled upon the idea of having a word for the year–something to focus on–and I liked it.
Gratitude, Love, Kindness, Smile, and Joy were among my choices between then and now, and I honestly don’t remember the order except that Joy was last year’s word.
2019 however, became a bit of a conundrum because I just wanted to rehash the old ideas I’d loved so much. They were easy to embrace, and they actually changed how I live my life. They are the backbone of who I am.
But I still needed a new word for this year.
I tossed around be as in, be strong, be real, be me, be bold…. And open, as in open-minded, open-hearted, open to new ideas, open to discussion…
They both seemed to be “good” choices and I could feel righteous with either one of them, but is that what I wanted?
I pondered while the days were counting down, and mentioned my dilemma to a friend who wisely said I shouldn’t worry, because it would come to me when the time was right.
And it did.
This morning, while I was driving through beautiful farmland on my way to feed a colony of feral cats, the word “laughter” popped into my head. I said it out loud, and then I laughed. And laughed again. It was so perfect.
Laughter is wonderful for the soul, and the mind, and according to science, for the body as well. I feel lighter when I laugh. The world seems brighter, and a little laughter often leads to lots more.
So that’s it. My savvy friend was right. What I needed came to me and now I’m looking forward to a year filled with laughter!
And what about you? Have you chosen your word yet? Please share with us!
Kat loves crisp sunny days, the warm breath of a horse, cats with a sense of humor, the smell of the ocean, and her very own charming prince—in no particular order. http://kathrynjane.com
Caleb Broughton is a man’s man, and the last thing he needs is a greener-than-grass new partner—especially a woman he’s been avoiding for months. But when a plane suddenly vanishes, nothing else matters.
#OneLineSunday by #RSsos Lines with the topic, NEW
Interested in reading more? Click on the book covers below for information about the novel and the author.
Jill practically skipped up the steps to the Inn. Sparklers flicked along inside her veins. She wouldn’t be satisfied if her Texas folks didn’t like Woodstock, her store, her new friends.
Zack wasn’t proud of his temper, but there was a lot he wasn’t proud of at the moment. Including his shiny, new dishonorable discharge which matched his new uniform of worn jeans and whatever T-shirt he could scrounge up for the day.
“If I’m participating, I’ll need a brand-new fruitcake. I wouldn’t want to be like Crazy Wanda who enters the same freakin’ lump of dough every freakin’ year.”
Vicki Batman The Great Fruitcake Bake-off, Whispers of Winter set
She’d spent her career battling everything from drug lords to some of the most notable arms dealers of the past decade, but poachers were new.
The joy of their new relationship was being derailed by AJ’s loyalty and concern for his best friend.
Sam Bradley w/a McKenna Sinclair
“I’m new in town,” the blonde said. Heath blinked. He knew just about everybody in this small burg, and surely would have heard if–
She would shed her old life like a snake sheds its skin, just as she had so many years ago, before she’d met Jason. She would be new and whole, and her life would be very different once again.
With the nervousness of landing behind me, a new feeling took over – excitement.
We are in the middle of major holidays at this time of year.
The first day of Hanukkah happened on December 3. Our Jewish friends celebrated “the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. It is also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, called a menorah.” Thanks to Wickipedia
Kwansaa developed in the mid-sixties with the rise of Black Power and is celebrated in January. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles:
Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work & Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. Seven candles are lit on each day. Thanks to Wickipedia
Ramadan for our Muslim friends is “a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts.” Thanks to Wickipedia. This year this holiday was celebrated in May in 2018. So why have I included it? Because the holiday moves around the calendar, and while I was a principal, there were many years when all of these holidays fell at roughly the same time of year.
Buddhism also commemorates in early December the Day the Buddah (Siddhartha Gautama the first person thought to have reached enlightenment) reached that stage.
Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25 commemorating the birth of Jesus beginning with lighting Advent Candles and culminating in Christmas Eve candlelight services. Candles and light are a big part of all these celebrations
The US secular culture with Santa Claus, Christmas carols, and baking, dominates our media. It’s good to remember we are an eclectic society and to make room for all faiths.
So however, you celebrate this season of light at the darkest time of our year, I wish you Happy Holidays. We at the Sisterhood of Suspense are grateful for each one of you.
(Previously published in my December, 2018 Newsletter.)